Ever wondered what creativity is? Well, according to men much smarter than me (and contrary to popular opinion), it’s something we’re all born with. Something which, over time, we can all learn to develop. Sorry to shatter all your illusions, but you weren’t bestowed with a special ‘gift’.

In fact, a study by George Land reveals we’re all naturally creative. It’s something inherent in all of us. From the moment our monkey-faced ancestors first used sticks to make fire and rocks to open nuts, creativity has been a survival-tool hardwired into every human’s DNA.

Now, don’t feel bad (you’re still special). And that last bit of news is actually good news. Because if being creative is something you learned to be, then that makes it tangible; something you can build on and become better at.

So, if creativity is a process that can be managed and a skill that can be developed, how do you go about honing your skills?

Well, I thought I’d do a little investigating and took a look at what goes into the creative process, and what qualities make someone “creative”. I thought, if I did that, maybe I could nail down the cornerstones of creativity, and here’s what I found out: It’s not that easy.

In no time at all, I’d drawn up a list of over thirty words inherent to the creative process. So I stopped. I realised I was gonna need another approach. Here’s what I did:

I began to sort these qualities out, grouping them together in clusters which shared similar traits and, sure enough, a pattern started to form with six key groups emerging. Could these be the cornerstones of creativity?

Maybe. Who knows? See what you think…

Here, in no particular order (other than the order they originally sprang to mind) is my (very incomplete) list of things I think are important to the creative process, along with a quick summary of why I think that is.

Association:
One of the core principles of creativity and part of its very definition; which, generally, is agreed to be something along the lines of ‘The forming of associative elements into new combinations.’

Inspiration:
Obviously, one of the ways creativity reveals itself to us is through inspiration and that ‘eureka’ moment.

Failure:
Believe it or not, failure is one of the most important parts of the creative process (if not, life). Embracing failure allows us to learn, experiment and leads us to new and exciting solutions.

Surprise:
New ideas, ones we haven’t seen before, are considered more creative than those that are more obvious. The more surprising a solution, the more creative it is considered to be.

Chaos:
The creative process is always a pretty messy one; at least to start with. It’s like Nietzsche said: “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”

Order:
Finding patterns, and arranging the unfamiliar in familiar ways, are both examples of how humans use order to get creative and make sense of seemingly unrelated information.

Volume:
Experts agree that volume is a key component of the creative process. If nothing else, churning out 100s of ideas helps you get bad ones out your head, making way for more creative solutions.

Awareness:
Being aware of the world around you is essential in finding the information, and inspiration your brain needs to come up with interesting new thoughts and ideas.

Opposition:
New, radical, and creative ideas often encounter opposition. Plus, opposition (or taking an opposing view) is often a good way to arrive at an unusual solution.

Experimentation:
Being able to try new things and test out ideas allows you to discover new techniques and methods of working. Experimentation also often leads to accidents which, in turn, can result in unexpected and pleasing outcomes.

Fun:
Doing something creative should be fun. Simple as.

Irreverence:
Sir John Hegarty (one of the original founders of world-famous ad agency, BBH) says he considers irreverence to be the common element in all great creative ideas. He says it’s irreverence that makes people zig when the world zags.

Practice:
The more you do something, the better your creative skills get. Practice lets you fine-tune a process, progress, and learn. In short, it helps your creativity evolve.

Environment:
The right environment is key to the creative process. If you’re surrounded by distractions, you’re going to find the creative process hard. Similarly, an environment primed to bring out your creative side will help ideas flow.

Observation:
The writer who sits in a coffee shop people-watching and gathering character ideas for his next best seller, is just one example of how observation is a part of some people’s creative process.

Questioning:
Questioning that which is taken for granted is one way creative people shake up the conventional and turn things on their head.

Confidence:
You need confidence to let your creativity out in order for it to develop. You also need the courage of your convictions to pursue a (sometimes risky) creative career.

Motivation:
Creative passion can be all consuming and even border on obsession. I think it’s fair to say that, if you have a creative soul, you’ll also have a strong internal drive and be very motivated.

Curiosity:
Before he died, curiosity probably led the cat to many new and exciting places. A curious mind is often cited as the most valuable asset a creative person can have.

Training:
Training is important to the creative process as it provides you with the tools and techniques needed to unleash your inner creativity.

Encouragement:
Creative souls are often full of self-doubt and sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees. Encouragement helps you push through times you might want to throw in the towel, and persist with good ideas if you’re being overly critical of them.

Opportunity:
Whether it be the time, the place, or even the problem itself, you need the opportunity and the chance to get creative.

Perception:
The ability to see things that others do not is a great quality to have if you’re creative. It often paves the way for innovation and creativity, sparking off ideas and revealing hidden truths.

Development:
Whether it’s the development of ideas or the development of self, progression and moving things forward is key to the creative process.

Making Sense of The List:

So that was my list. And at this point I stopped adding things to it, as I realised it could go on forever. I needed another approach, so I started to look for a way to bring some sort of order to my brainstorming and narrow things down a bit.

I thought, maybe, some of the items on my list might share some similar qualities with each other. So I looked at my words and tried to group them together in a way that made some sort of sense.

If I could do that, maybe I would be one step closer to discovering the cornerstones of creativity. What I discovered was (using a little creative thinking, of course) they all loosely fit into six different categories. Here they are:

Category 1 – Vision
Perception
Awareness
Environment
Observation

Category 2 – Form & Structure
Association
Surprise
Chaos
Order

Category 3 – Effort & Hard Work
Failure
Volume
Practice
Training

Category 5 – Emotion
Motivation
Fun
Irreverence
Inspiration

Category 5 – Judgement
Experimentation
Curiosity
Questioning
Opposition

Category 6 – Up-Bringing
Opportunity
Confidence
Encouragement
Development

A creative conclusion:

So there you have it… Vision, form, effort, emotion, judgement and up-bringing. Could these be the six cornerstones of creativity? Who knows? I’m certainly no professor, and don’t know much about how the mind works.

The whole exercise was just something fun to try over the weekend. And I certainly wouldn’t argue if you think it’s all just psychobabble. If I’m being honest, there were no great surprises… except maybe one. Up-bringing.

I didn’t ever expect to see that appear. I mean, it never even entered my head. Then again, if you think about it, is it really that surprising at all?

Make your own mind up, but I wonder if there aren’t six cornerstones of creativity at all? Just one: The way we’re raised.

Author bio: This post was written by Tom Braley who works for Thrive Software – creators of Solo, the beautiful project management tool for creative freelancers. Before making the switch to the technology sector, he worked as an advertising creative for nearly 20 years, and you can follow his cats, Ike & Bam, as well as Thrive Software, on Twitter.

header image courtesy of Melissa Pohl